Archives for category: Central government

The late Hilary Powell, who lived in Shirley, would – like many others volunteering to help food banks – have reacted with great concern to the forecast in the Financial Times by Chris Tighe writing from Newcastle:

“Winter is coming, Britain’s welfare system is in upheaval, universal credit rollout puts extra pressure on Britain’s food banks and rising costs are hurting the poor”. 

Though increasingly disabled over the years by arthritis, with other serious health problems, Hilary did the lighter work on her allotment at Scribers Lane, with her husband John, and for some years – after making this point to organisers – ensured that some fresh food was added to the store of tinned and packaged goods by growing salads and vegetables and taking them to the food bank.

This year, the government’s rollout of its new benefits system has swelled the number of people seeking help because of the six-week delay before claimants receive payments. Some food banks may not be able to cope with the added strain on their resources, said Sam Stapley, operations manager at the Trussell Trust.

The Trussell Trust’s network, which covers two-thirds of distribution areas, saw a 6.64% average rise in referrals for emergency food in 2016/17, but a 16.85% increase in the universal credit rollout area.

  Newcastle West End food bank, the UK’s biggest, provides food for 1,000 people a week

Ten years ago, food banks were scarce. Many were started by volunteers concerned about people struggling financially. But they now form an essential part of Britain’s social safety net, with an estimated 2,000 distribution centres across the country. To use a food bank, a referral is needed, typically from the social service or housing support officers, but also from agencies such as local charities or Citizens Advice. Tens of thousands of volunteers nationally work more than 4m hours a year stocktaking, picking up and distributing food and fundraising, according to a recent study by the Trussell Trust, a national food bank network, and the Independent Food Aid Network.

The Trust is encouraging regional ‘plans of action’ so that food banks can better help each other plug gaps.

Streams of donations come from:

  • harvest festivals,
  • online appeals,
  • social events,
  • supermarket collection points,
  • a £3,000 crowdfunding appeal for a new Salford distribution centre,
  • Cardiff food bank’s recent auction of an ancient can of kidney beans raised £500.
  • Growing numbers of donations are coming from football matches.
  • Many businesses, in sectors from retail to financial services and energy, support food banks with goods or seconded staff.

Logistics, with many food banks based in ad hoc premises and receiving irregular stocks of food, is a major challenge. The Trussell Trust is meeting experts this month to discuss if its Coventry regional warehouse could become a national distribution base. Then the trust could accept big pallets of unwanted goods from corporate donors, split them into small consignments and distribute them.

 

 

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The Financial Times has reported that John Healey, shadow housing minister, has set out Labour’s plans to tighten a housebuilding loophole introduced by the Conservatives that has been blamed for halving the number of “affordable homes” built in Britain over the past five years by making it too easy for property developers to “dodge their obligations” by being allowed to haggle over the number of social homes they build.

Inside Housing adds that recent research by Shelter covering 11 local authorities found viability assessments had been used to deliver a 79% reduction in affordable housing built, compared to what council policies would demand.

Carol Wilcox Secretary of the Labour Land Campaign, Christchurch, Dorset, commented in the FT that Labour should instead be arguing for Section 106 Agreements to be scrapped rather than reformed.

She cites a study by Oxford Brookes university, which found that the number of affordable homes delivered through Section 106 dropped from 28,972 in 2010-11 to just 16,452 in 2015-16 — contributing to the wider downward trend, continuing:

“The whole system is open to corruption. There are websites that describe, for the amateur, how to negotiate with local authorities to avoid more than just the affordable homes obligation (one here). These agreements, together with their younger sibling, the Community Infrastructure Levy, are in effect just another misguided attempt to capture the uplift in value from change of use to residential”.

Her alternative: a comprehensive land value tax system which could easily finance public investment in goods and services up front and capture the rising land value from the resulting revenue stream. Increased public spending would lead to increased land value, leading to increased land value tax, leading to increased public investment

 — a virtuous circle in fact.

 

 

 

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In the Financial Times, Jim Pickard, its Chief Political Correspondent and one of Mr Corbyn’s consistent detractors, writes: “After largely ignoring Labour for two years, many business leaders are now scrambling to work out what a Jeremy Corbyn premiership could mean for their industries”.

Today, Mr Pickard opens by saying that, given increasing concerns about the housing market among young voters, ministers are drawing up plans to make housebuilding a priority in this month’s Budget. Just 32,630 affordable homes were built in 2015-16 — the lowest number in 24 years and down from 61,090 in 2010-11. But 16,000 were built as “affordable rent”, a new category under which landlords can charge up to 80% of market rents.

Under the “Section 106 agreement”, developers bargain with local councils over local amenities and affordable housing that they have to build in return for planning permission. But a loophole involving “viability assessments”, which was first introduced in the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), allow developers to negotiate away their Section 106 affordable housing commitments on the basis that they would make the scheme less profitable. If expected profits are below 20%, defined as a “competitive return”, the number of homes built can be reduced.

“This provides a safety net for developers, who can overpay for land to guarantee they win sites, safe in the knowledge they will be able to argue down community benefits to make their money back later,” said Shelter.

Last week Alok Sharma, the housing minister, admitted that the viability assessment system was “not working” and suggested that he favoured changing the process. “Clearly the system as it is does not work. We are proposing a set of improvements we believe will make it work better,” Mr Sharma told a Commons committee. “Let’s see what views come forward as a result of the consultation.”

John Healey, shadow housing minister, said Labour would carry out a review of the future of social housing that would look at how to maximise the number of genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy on new developments. “Changing the rules to capture more of the value created by the granting of planning permission will not only help fund new affordable housing, but help increase local support for new housing, too.”

In every major speech, Corbyn addresses the housing issue. On a site which records many of these references, see the housing section in his 2016 conference address.

Today, Labour will set out plans to tighten this housebuilding loophole, responsible for halving the number of “affordable homes” built in Britain over the past five years.

 

 

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Today the FT reports that Jeremy Corbyn was given a ‘rapturous reception’ in Brussels on Thursday, as he warned that leaving the EU without a Brexit deal would be “catastrophic” for the UK economy. Mr Corbyn met Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator (above), the European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and the prime ministers of Portugal, Italy and Sweden on Thursday in Brussels.

Mr Corbyn received a standing ovation from Europe’s centre-left parties as he addressed delegates at the Europe Together conference, just hours before prime minister Theresa May was scheduled to meet her EU counterparts at a European leaders’ summit. He said:

“We’re here to make sure that negotiations get on track, that we defend jobs in Britain, and that we make sure there is trade access to Europe in the future . . . We cannot countenance the idea that we rush headlong into a no deal with Europe. No deal would be very dangerous for employment and jobs in Britain. We are clear in our priorities: a jobs-first Brexit which maintains free access to the single market.”

He advocated “radical alternatives” for Europeans after years of austerity, rising job insecurity and falling living standards.  “The neoliberal economic model is broken. It doesn’t work for most people,” he said, adding: “Our broken system has provided fertile ground for the growth of nationalist and xenophobic politics.”

The FT ends: “Mr Corbyn’s enthusiastic reception was in stark contrast to Mrs May’s arrival in Brussels on Thursday. The UK prime minister was rebuffed from attending a meeting of Britain’s traditional European allies — including the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries and the Baltic countries — on the sidelines of the summit, though Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, was invited to that meeting.”

 

First published in Watershed.

 

 

 

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Political Concern comments on Druids Heath and the role of the modern council

The presenter of this BBC radio programme, Adrian Goldberg, grew up on the Druids Heath council estate in Birmingham, the home of the ‘municipalism’ pioneered by Joseph Chamberlain when he was Mayor of Birmingham – summarised by Walsall MP John McShane in the Commons in 1930:

“A young person today lives in a municipal house, and he washes himself … in municipal water. He rides on a municipal tram or omnibus, and I have no doubt that before long he will be riding in a municipal aeroplane. He walks on a municipal road; he is educated in a municipal school. He reads in a municipal library and he has his sport on a municipal recreation ground. When he is ill he is doctored and nursed in a municipal hospital and when he dies he is buried in a municipal cemetery.”

Adrian is described as being an ideal candidate to judge the changing nature of the local council, because when he and his family moved there the local authority provided a range of services. He comments, “Today the situation is much more complex”- follow the link to read more.

Political Concern adds:

Inside Housing reports the housing minister’s description of sprinkler systems for high rise blocks as “additional rather than essential”, refusing a council’s request for funding offered after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

And comments: “Strangely, the conservative Prime Minister expresses admiration for Joseph Chamberlain”.

Mayor of Birmingham in 1873, city MP in 1876, Joseph Chamberlain directed the construction of good housing for the poorest, libraries, municipal swimming pools and schools. Unlike Ms May and colleagues, he was not in favour of a market economy, arguing for tariffs on goods from countries outside the British Empire. He was also an ‘economic interventionist’ (see Lewis Goodall, Newsnight), described as a “gas and water socialist”. He took profit-making private enterprises into public hands, declaring that “profit was irrelevant”.

In no way is she following the example of her hero. Ms May’s government continues to implement a series of cuts affecting the lives of the country’s poorest and most disabled with might and main. Ironically the contemporary politician sharing Chamberlain’s principles is the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies she echoes but does not implement.

 

 

 

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In 2015, Welfare Weekly reported that research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that 2.6million working families on Universal Credit would lose £1,600 a year from the changes and 1.9 million would be £1,400 a year better off.

Analysis from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility suggested the changes to universal credit would save the chancellor close to £3bn by 2019-20 – a figure quoted by Public Finance.

Graph from House of Commons Library blog, last November, ‘Jam Tomorrow’

In March this year a study by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the IPPR thinktank that a series of cuts and changes have left the government’s flagship welfare overhaul failing to meet its original aims.

Although universal credit was intended to boost household incomes by strengthening incentives for claimants to move into work or take on more hours, the study says that more families will be worse off than under the scheme’s original design.

Families with children are the biggest losers under the cuts made to universal credit since it was first established. Lone parent families will be on average £2,380 a year worse off, while families with two children lose £1,100 on average and those with three youngsters lose £2,540. Lone parents and couples where one parent works part-time to care for young children are hit particularly hard and face having have to find up to two days’ extra work a week to meet the shortfall in income from the cuts.

Currently just 450,000 people are on universal credit, which is not expected to be fully operational across the country until 2022. At that point, according to estimates by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2.1 million families will be worse off under the new system, and 1.8 million better off.

David Hencke quotes Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle North, who said:

“My office has been deluged with complaints from constituents about a Universal Credit system that is clearly struggling to cope and failing to deliver the support that claimants need in anything like an orderly or timely fashion”.

She reveals a very sorry picture. The new IT system means people can’t talk to a human. It has a verification process that requires claimants to produce photographic identification such as a passport or driving licence, “which many simply do not possess and certainly cannot afford”. She adds:

“There are numerous examples of Universal Credit claims being shut down before they should be; of documentation being provided to the DWP, at the constituent’s cost, and repeatedly being lost or even destroyed; and of totally conflicting, often incorrect, information being provided to constituents about their claims.” A list of other problems may be seen here.

Precisely the case seen repeatedly 20 years ago when the writer (David Hencke) was a volunteer in a local night-shelter.

Hencke ends, “What this shows to me is a growing disconnect between the people at the top – who are computer savvy, have nice centrally heated homes, no problems with bills, can afford expensive holidays, and can’t conceive of anyone not having a passport – designing a system for poor, dispossessed, desperate people without any understanding of how the world works for them.

 

 

 

 

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The BBC reports that, at a High Court hearing in London on Wednesday, Mr Justice Fraser dismissed the council’s argument that Mr Clancy had no authority to make a deal at ACAS with Unite.

He said that he was ‘more than satisfied’ there is enough evidence about what was referred to in court as the ‘Clancy Agreement’ to be tested at a full trial. He also dismissed a submission by Birmingham City Council’s legal team that a trial would not be in the public interest.

An interim injunction was granted against the bid – favoured by council officers – to make refuse collectors in Birmingham redundant.

The union is calling for Ms Stella Manzie, the authority’s interim chief executive, who had been leading the negotiating team, to stand down.

Justice Fraser said that documents made clear an internal rift at the council and read out an email sent on 15 August from the interim chief executive Stella Manzie to ex-leader Mr Clancy saying the council could not look weak and “as if it’s being walked over”.

On 11th August Cllr Lisa Trickett had corrected the impression that there will be job losses and cuts to basic pay for workers affected by the removal of the “leading hand” role  “one of the two supervisors in a three-person team: 

“Those supervisors will be offered other permanent roles within the council that their skills are broadly suited to, with training on offer to help ensure they could move into the jobs as easily as possible”.

John Clancy said in July that the council is ‘bending over backwards’ to reform the inefficient bins service inherited from the previous administration, without making job losses:

“We are giving the leading hands every opportunity to further their careers elsewhere in the city council with at least the same basic salary.”  He pointed out that 220 more permanent bin jobs will be created to replace the expensive agency staff currently used.

The conciliation service ACAS said on 16 August the council had accepted the workers’ case and restored the jobs of grade three workers, who are responsible for safety at the back of refuse vehicles. However, a council report said the deal struck by UNITE and the council was unaffordable.

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said refuse workers would now return to a full working day until the five-day court hearing.

 

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SUPPORTIVE COMMENTS ON THE BBC WEBSITE

  • So council bosses want to get rid of 120 binmen but not their huge wages and pensions. No surprise there then.
  • Why not scrap a couple of councillor jobs and pay for the service The council tax should cover bin collection costs, not pay rises for the suits
  • It’s costing the council more to pay for agency staff to clear the rubbish than it would for them to accept the deal brokered by ACAS with Clancy.
  • They could find £188 million to build a library, and no doubt have spent millions more on other vanity projects, but want to save money collecting peoples rubbish.
  • As with most councils, they have their priorities all wrong. https://www.letsrecycle.com/news/latest-news/sheffield-councillors-vote-to-end-35-year-veolia-contract/ I live in Sheffield & I can tell you first hand Veolia are 100% inadequately staffed and just as poorly managed and led by their corporate offices. Privatization of a service that should be ‘in house’ to any local authority is a huge financial gamble – as proven here.
  • That is the issue – tenders being brought in by councils that cost more in the long run to fund than staffing with their own paid employees. Look at Veolia – Google search to see the muck ups they make & their costs.
  • A simpler way to save the money would be to get rid of Stella Manzie, the interim CEO who has been sent to Birmingham by the government to do a hatchet job on our local authority. She is well known for being parachuted into ‘difficult’ local authorities who are not following Conservative government rules. She is the one who scuppered the agreement between Unite and the council leader John Clancy.
  • Birmingham City Council has behaved appallingly in this dispute. They did not consult properly with the bin men from the start. The council leader then agreed a deal that would change shift patterns but removed the threat of redundancy. The council then reneged on the deal. The interim CEO (a government stooge) was behind the report to scupper the deal. They then issued redundancy notices!
  • The right decision. Workers’ rights have been eroded to the core as it is but central government is the problem here. Birmingham, like most councils, has had its funding cut severely. If they don’t save the money here they will be forced, by the government, to save it somewhere else.

 

  • Be clear here. Bin men were not being made redundant to end up on the dole. Their jobs were being made redundant, & the men were offered replacement jobs elsewhere in the council work-places on the SAME PAY grade as they were on.

 

 

 

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The Petitions team: UK Government and Parliament sends news that Parliament is to debate the petition “To make votes matter, adopt Proportional Representation for UK General Elections” on 30 October 2017.

Petition text:

The vast majority wants PR. Our FPTP voting system makes Parliament unrepresentative. One party got 37% of the vote and 51% of seats, while 3 parties got 24% of the vote but share 1.5% of seats. FPTP violates the democratic principle of majority rule and causes problems like costly policy reversals.

The UK has never had a say on PR. As David Cameron himself said, the AV Referendum was on a system that is often less proportional than FPTP, so the rejection of AV could not possibly be a rejection of PR. In fact, so few voters wanted either system on offer that the turnout was just 42%.

There are tried and tested PR systems that keep the constituency link. They would make every vote matter equally, rather than allowing a minority of swing voters in a few marginal seats to pick the government.

A video and transcript of the debate will be sent to all who signed the petition.

 

 

 

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The government will decide, in November, whether to make a formal bid to host the Games.  Birmingham based its application around the city’s four indoor arenas and the Alexander stadium, currently the home of UK Athletics, which it plans to refurbish for the 2022 event and make it the UK’s largest permanent athletics stadium. It also put forward plans to run a business convention alongside the Games.

The Origin Sport Group was selected by the council to assess sporting facilities such as this

In the Birmingham Press (2012), the website that was first to call for Birmingham to try and stage the Commonwealth Games in either 2022 or 2026, Steve Beauchampé congratulates Councillor Ian Ward, Steve Hollingworth (lead officer for sport at the Council) and their colleagues at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bid Company, stating: “The government chose Birmingham because it offered a low risk, low cost Games fit for post-Brexit Britain”.

He points out that Birmingham’s cautious and (a word they used often) ‘compliant’ bid spoke to the government’s search for a low-cost, low-risk Games and adds: “It is telling that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport statement outlining why Birmingham’s name is the one that goes forward highlighted phrases such as ‘risk-minimisation’ and ‘value for money’”.

A Games for our times

“A Games for our times then, and a decision set against very real concerns that a further extended period of economic uncertainty for the UK lies ahead. A decision taken by a Government striving to reduce the annual budget deficit, yet confident that overseas competition for the right to host 2022 would be limited. An austerity Games perhaps; strong and stable, yet deliverable and placed in the hands of reliable and trustworthy organisers”.

Beauchampé adds that as Britain leaves the European Union, damaging relations with our closest neighbours in the process, it urgently needs to develop new trading links beyond Europe and counter Britain’s growing image as an insular, nationalistic and increasingly irrelevant island.

Yet despite the understandably positive response by many in Birmingham to Thursday’s news, he feels that a degree of perspective might not go amiss

He foresees that if Birmingham is eventually selected to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games it will not transform the city or its fortunes in the way that hosting in 2002 transformed Manchester. After listing the changes to be made to Birmingham’s sporting infrastructure he ends:

“Undoubtedly there will be some permanent new employment opportunities (along with considerably more temporary ones) whilst Birmingham’s national and international profile and image may undergo a degree of positive change. Fine as far as it goes, but should the city eventually be awarded the Games, it must use them as the starting point for long-term transformation, rather than the culmination of it. And that will require considerably greater ambition than we have witnessed thus far”.

Source: http://thebirminghampress.com/2017/09/commonwealth-games-2022-box-ticking-success-strategy/

 

 

 

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Connectivity, though identified as such in the Midlands Connect strategy report,  is not the greatest transport problem

The Midlands Connect Partnership and the Department for Transport have developed a transport strategy that identifies the major infrastructure projects needed to improve the connectivity of the region’s key locations and drive economic growth, but it omits any reference to waterway passenger and freight potential. 

Its ‘Final Strategy’ paper (left, March) has no canal or waterway references, 12 to congestion and only one to air pollution.

Sir John Peace, the current Chair of Standard Chartered plc and Burberry Group plc, has been appointed as Chair of the Midlands Engine and will continue to chair Midlands Connect. As his experience is in financial services and retailing, he needs to draw on the wealth of experience in organisations such as Freight for London, the Commercial Boat Operators Association (CBOA) and the Canals and River Trust (CRT). Though employment opportunities abound in the inland waterway transport sectors in India, Uganda, South Sudan and continental Europe, according to online advertisements, Midlands Connect appears to be unaware of the transport potential of waterways. 

Jonathan Guthrie, Financial Times Enterprise Editor, reported years ago that canals could regain their role as conduits for trade because of gridlock on the motorways according to a new study for West Midlands councils, the Highways Agency and British Waterways, which found “considerable potential for the reintroduction of freight on the canals”. What has changed?

He added that the findings will resonate with any driver who has ever watched narrowboats putter past on nearby canals while stuck on a motorway. A canal freight shuttle service between the Black Country and Birmingham could move 175,000 tonnes annually and save 61,750 urban lorry miles, the study found. All valid points today. 

The CRT report, Transport energy, planning for inland waterways freight, records evidence given to the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Rural Affairs Committee (ETRAC) 38 suggesting that there is significant traffic potential. One barge company claimed that, “without trying at all”, there was half a million tonnes of freight that could be transferred from road transport and that the Aire & Calder Navigation could quite easily take 2,000 lorries a day off local roads.

To create a more comprehensive strategy, Sir John Peace and the partnership could co-opt a number of people with the right expertise. One of many is Tim West of Robert Wynn and Sons Ltd. He was consulted about low bridges restricting the ability of the inland waterways to accommodate some cargo on certain stretches and replied that his firm has been able to carry large abnormal loads to locations such as Worcester, Leeds, Nottingham, Rotherham, York, Preston and Manchester. The Inland Navigator (above) sailed down the River Ouse carrying a transformer to Drax power station, avoiding a possible 15 mile tailback on the motorways.

London’s River Bus Express (above) run by Transport for London offers the public a regular service which is described in detail here – a model for other towns and cities. The city is also moving large amounts of water and construction materials by water.

The CRT report points out that it is Government policy to promote alternatives to road transport for both passenger and freight movements, partly to reduce congestion and partly to reduce the environmental impact of road transport.  

Inland waterways have the potential to assist in both these objectives.

 

 

 

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